Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Yellow-Brick Road to Meaningful Work

Blog from Tracy Butz of Think Impact Solutions 

Human beings are wired to take the path of least resistance. According to research, our brain tricks us into believing the "low-hanging fruit" is the most appealing and delicious of all. For example, it’s easier to browse the internet aimlessly or be hypnotized in front of one uninspiring TV show after another than it is to spend quality time focused on enhancing our lives with ever-so-high stretch goals which take us out of our comfort zone one lesson at a time and create lasting behavior change with ongoing effort, perseverance and grit. It even sounds exhausting, doesn't it? 

Rather than pursuing the most comfortable and easiest route, avert the appetizing apple and prevent the provoking pear by taking even the smallest step to catapult you toward meaningful work.

Some organizations excel at creating meaningful workplaces where every employee becomes part of creating success, cohesiveness, and an amazing culture. And some people independently bring a strong sense of meaning and mission with them to work each day. But what if your second home isn’t the envied workplace you desire?

If you want to find more meaning in your work and you’re not ready to take the plunge into the unchartered waters of an ambiguous job search, consider looking for greater meaning using these three strategies:

  • Identify the purpose. Is what you do at work connected to making a positive difference in the lives of others? If it is, realizing this fact will create greater meaning for you. 
  • Crave learning. Work offers opportunities to learn, expand your horizon, and enhance self-awareness. This kind of personal growth is meaningful. 
  • Seek results. When I accomplish a difficult work task, the results I attain offers me a huge sense of job satisfaction, greater self-confidence and a heightened degree of commitment which can sustain my level of motivation far beyond this one task. I may even be recognized for my achievement, which may offer another unintended reward.
Just like the yellow brick road in the magical Land of Oz led to Emerald City, pave your enchanted path toward greater meaning in your work and you may just discover that "There's no place like [your second] home.”

Monday, July 31, 2017

One Person’s Value Does Not Equal Another’s

Blog from Tracy Butz of Think Impact Solutions 

As my closest family and friends know, my husband and I (and our dog, Snickers, too!) are soon relocating to Denver, Colorado. We are super excited about the new adventure, with a lot of nervous feelings surrounding that, of course. This move represents the first time I will be living in another state other than Wisconsin. Cheeseland…is there anything better? I guess I will soon find out. My husband was awarded a fabulous promotion, which he most certainly deserves. His new role will allow him the opportunity to capitalize on his strengths and truly make a difference each and every day…even more than he does today as an EMS helicopter pilot. In his new role, he is responsible for training the pilots and ensuring they are equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to keep them, their crews and patients safe. As for me, I will finally be in a city that has an airport with a major hub. Instead of Delta, United Airlines will now be my go-to choice.

As we are navigating through the daunting process of moving, I have learned that a cross-country relocation is extremely expensive. Wow! And so is the cost of housing in Denver. Yikes! But on the plus side, our new home that is currently being built and will be ready for us in mid-late October, is in a gorgeous suburb of Denver, called Thornton. It is close to everything, but far enough away to be quiet and quaint. Seeing the mountains is breath-taking.

But aside from the mixed feelings of overwhelming and exuberance, I’ve also recently learned that what one person extremely values, another may not.

As you likely realize, we have put our house up for sale and for our first open house we had 10 different families come through. This was an unexpected and outstanding turnout! Yet, still no offers. Our realtor is amazing and sold our last home in less than 24 hours. I can’t say we went into this endeavor with the same expectations, but we are on week three and wondering why there hasn’t been at least one offer so far. Ridiculous…I know.

I keep trying to remind myself that even though we LOVE our current home and think everyone else should too, I realize that it is not the home for everyone…but perhaps most? No. Some. It’s difficult and disheartening to know that those who sauntered through our home didn’t immediately want to buy it like we did, just three years ago. In fact, we purchased it as it was being built and got to watch the process day-by-day of the amazing transformation. I guess my frustration is more about why others wouldn’t see a similar value in our home—to have a similar attraction to buy, protect and care for it in a similar way—but after seeing it, simply dismiss it.

I realized over the course of several days that I needed to not take the selling of our home so personally. Yet, that is easier said than done. I’ve come to the conclusion that even though the eventual buyers of our home may not value it the same as we do, they likely will have a similar affinity for it—which may be less or perhaps, even more.

The unknown in everything we are currently facing is uncomfortable, but exciting. It is a reminder to me to value everyone and everything I have in my life, because gratitude is the best gift of all. Without it, treasured relationships and valued items are just things. And what a shame it would be if that is how we remembered them.

Thanks to all of those special people in our lives. It is because of you that we have the strength to face this new endeavor before us. We will not forget you. In fact, we hope we continue our relationships, wherever they may lead us.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"Bee" Busy Doing the Right Things

Blog from Tracy Butz of Think Impact Solutions 

I find it interesting that some people can appear super busy, yet don’t necessarily accomplish very much. How is that possible, when others can drive home task after task, project after project.  I believe it is because they spend their time on low-value tasks and procrastinate on the high-value activities that need attention. So they look busy, and truly are, yet they are busy doing the wrong stuff and unfortunately not getting the results they desire. 

I recently spoke about this topic at the 2017 National Conference and Exposition for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). I illustrated the point that if we don’t manage our time, other people will, and we will end up stealing it from our spouses, our children and even ourselves. So how we spend our time is an extension of our values. It is important. 

When you think of someone who consistently accomplishes a lot, what traits come to mind?
  • Inclusive, collaborative
  • Pleasant, friendly
  • Approachable
  • Delegates well
  • Easy to get along with
  • Positive, laughs, has fun
  • Appreciates & rewards others
  • Accountable
  • Has integrity
  • Does what he/she says they will do
  • Self-disciplined
  • Very organized 

None of the traits mentioned include a magic pill; it is simply about clearly knowing what you need to do AND then doing it.

Complete this statement in your head…”I wish I had time to…” For me the answers are, “grab lunch with one of my sons, landscape in our flower garden or enjoy date night with my hubby.”  What are these things worth to me? What is the pay-off? If I stay disciplined, then I’ll get to do these things. If I utilize my time better, this is my reward.  

Don’t let procrastination get in the way of staying disciplined. After all, procrastination is not a character flaw…it’s a bad habit. Instead of giving into excuses, like I used to do much more years ago, consider the metaphor so famously aligned with the insect many of us try hard to evade. Bees don’t know how to procrastinate and likely don’t get side-tracked very often.  They just know how to work hard, and harder, and even harder yet, doing the right things…hence, the phrase, “busy as a bee.”

Monday, June 12, 2017

Let Go and "Kick 'em Out of the Nest"

Blog by Tracy Butz, Think Impact Solutions

“Holding on” is about bargaining, primarily with yourself. For example, let’s say Ben dislikes his boss; they don’t seem to see eye-to-eye on most things. Ben tells himself that if he can just hang on until the end of the year, he knows he’ll get that promotion and then he won’t have to deal with her anymore. Bargaining, in this context, allows you to wish—but sadly strips you of the ability to make the wish come true.   

In contrast, “letting go” is about facing, and then dealing with, the reality or truth you’re confronted with. It’s about kicking that “if/then” language to the curb, and instead, stepping up to carefully consider your options, making the best decision, and then taking action by following through with that choice.

In addition to our work lives, we face this same dilemma in our personal lives.

Someone very close to me recently started a new job, after the last two were short stints and unfulfilling. I caught myself saying, “If I am able to set him up for success by purchasing these necessary tools for him, then he will be able to perform as expected, he’ll feel confident and happy in his new role, and this opportunity will become the career he has always wanted.” Writing my thoughts down on paper actually made me realize the “if/then” language I had succumb to. You can help set others up for success and that is an admirable gesture. But when you expect others to behave in a certain way because of your actions—similar to my situation—you may be attempting to somewhat control others using an “if/then” mindset.

So in my personal scenario, I decided to not give the new tools to this young tradesman; instead, I offered to purchase and provide the brand new set of tools to him now along with a one-year promissory note, outlining the expectation that the loan will be paid off in one year. Once the note is satisfied, he becomes the official proud owner of the shiny power drills, saws and screwdrivers. He happily signed the note. He was provided with necessary items to begin his new job. He has a responsibility, though, to pay for them. Yet, the tools alone will not determine his fate. It is up to him to choose to arrive at the scheduled start time. It is up to him to pay close attention to the direction provided and learn how things need to be done. It is up to him to utilize his newly-acquired skill-set and perform his best.

Letting go is about offering assistance and then knowing when to step aside to allow others to navigate on their own.     

Similar to momma birds caring for their young and then literally choosing to “kick ‘em out of the nest,” letting go is an important part of helping others grow. Whether it’s with a colleague at work or a family member at home, the art of letting go helps prepare others for not only this next step, but the many more that will follow in the future.

(The pictures were taken from our flowering crab apple tree in our yard.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Compassion: Are You Born With It or Can You Cultivate It?

Blog from Tracy Butz of Think Impact Solutions

I have always viewed myself as a rather compassionate person. I try to be kind to others, express empathy, demonstrate genuine concern, and help others in need. In fact, I began my career in speaking to share my message with others in hopes of offering inspiration, support and real connection. However, have you ever paused and reflected on acts that were anything but compassionate? 

As human beings, we each have some standard needs—like food, shelter, and love to survive. We all crave attention, recognition, affection and happiness—to some degree, at least. But what about compassion? Do we need it and are we all equipped to give it?

Recently, I’ve began thinking more about compassion. I wondered if it was a trait that’s innate or one that can be developed. According to research, compassion is something that can be strengthened through targeted exercises and practice, and isn’t something you’re born with. If you’re interested in cultivating compassion, here are nine strategies worth trying:

1. Encourage cooperation, not competition. Imagine three things you want most in life. Find a partner and get in an arm wrestling position. Every time you are able to successfully pin the other's arm onto the surface, you win one of those three things you want most. GO! So were you successful? Did you get all three things you want? Most people engage in this exercise and come out with one winner and one loser. But is that necessary? What if you both decided to NOT resist the other, and simply allow your wrist to be pinned, back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth again. After three times, you both will have won your wants. Instead of competing with others and trying to find a way to win and have the other person lose, consider if cooperation might be a better choice. It certainly would have been with this exercise.

2. Look for commonalities. Seeing yourself as similar to others increases feelings of compassion. Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to identify what you have in common—traits, experiences, passions, emotions, etc. Ask yourself, “Is she trying to escape some emotional pain, just like I’ve done before?”

3. Don’t play the blame game. When we blame others for their misfortune, we feel less empathy and concern toward them. If you don’t know, don’t judge.

4. Model behaviors you want repeated. Research suggests compassion is contagious, so if you want to help compassion spread in others, lead by example.

5. Calm your inner worrier. When we let our mind run wild with fear in response to someone else’s pain (e.g., What if that happens to me?), we inhibit the biological systems that enable compassion. The practice of mindfulness can help us feel safer in these situations, facilitating compassion.

6. Notice and savor how good it feels to be compassionate. Studies have shown that practicing compassion and engaging in compassionate actions bolsters brain activity in areas that signal reward.

7. Put a human face on suffering. When reading the news, look for profiles of specific individuals and try to imagine what their lives have been like.

8. Don’t become a victim. When we completely take on other people’s suffering as our own, we risk feeling personally distressed, threatened, and overwhelmed; instead, try to be receptive to other people’s feelings without adopting those feelings as your own.

9. Know you CAN. When we realize we’re capable of making a difference, we’re less likely to curb our compassion.

When we live our lives with greater compassion, amazing transformations happen. Villains disappear. Perspectives change. Needs are realized. Happiness grows. Kindness multiplies. What will you do today to make a positive difference in another person’s life through expressing compassion?  The beauty is, the more compassion you give, the happier you get. Now that’s one gift worthy of re-gifting.

Eat Dessert First

Blog by Tracy Butz, Think Impact Solutions

When you dine at a nice restaurant, what part of the meal do you look forward to the most? Is it the appetizer, salad or soup, main entrée, or dessert? The main entrée might be what entices you to go to that establishment, but I frequently scan the dessert menu and see what the options are before ordering the main course. Why? Well, the answer is simple. I love dessert.

Whether you crave sweet, savory, or decadent delights, indulging in tasty treats during the confectionery course is blissful! Imagine reading this…The Ultimate Chocolate Cake is made with velvety chocolate mousse between layers of chocolate decadence and moist chocolate butter cake on a chocolate cookie crust, finished with chocolate butter icing. Well, that just sounds awful, right? NOT! So why is it that we feel guilty or wrong for planning our meal with an ending that is magnificent?

I believe it is because of unwritten rules; rules that don’t exist; yet, shape our opinions and drive our decisions.

Consider what you ate for breakfast over the last week or two. Did it include cereal, an energy bar, bagels with flavored cream cheese, waffles or pancakes, a pop tart, or oatmeal? My guess, is that for many of us, we chose one of the go-to breakfast biggies, and oatmeal isn’t one of them. So let’s see…what is the difference between a bowl of sugar-infused cereal or an ice cream drumstick? The honest answer is…not much. Yet, we have been brain-washed to believe that eating something like cereal in the morning is good, healthy and the right thing to do. Well, in the last several years, I have thrown that advice simply “out the window.” I’ll enjoy a hard-boiled egg or two with a little salt and pepper (tossing out some of the yolk to decrease the fat and still eat a protein-enriched palette-appealing item), and add in a little delight. My jolt of happiness comes from luscious chocolate that gives way to sweet, refreshing mint, which is full-bodied and sweetly smooth, making other snacks green with envy. What is it? It is the NESTLÉ® SIMPLY DIPPED MINT CONE.

I know what you are thinking. Ice cream for breakfast? That’s unheard of! And I say, really? How is my little delight so different from other common breakfast go-to items? It’s not. I just choose to start my day with some protein and a little fun.

I’ve come to realize that we don’t need to follow rules that don’t exist. Kids get it, yet adults don’t. When a child is given a donut, they often lick the frosting off the top of the donut first. Why? Because that is the tastiest part! What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

Instead of following life’s unwritten rules, stay curious and ask questions. Consider one thing I could do to make “this” a little bit better? Now that’s instant innovation! The ability to see things with new eyes is priceless.

Let’s consider dandalions.

Many of us hire landscaping experts to prevent or rid our lawns of these pesty weeds. But are dandalions weeds or wishes?

Ask any kid their perspective and theirs may be different than yours.

My point is simple. Life is about perspective. As Ellen Glasglow says, “The only difference between a rut and a grave are dimensions.”

Days can be long and years often short. Enjoy the gift of life each and every day. And the next time your sweet tooth comes a-knockin', take a moment to enjoy a small indulgence, one worthy of bringing a smile to your face. After all, if we ignore that craving, we feel strong. But if we delight in that delicacy, there is always a 100 percent chance it will be awesome. Now those are my kind of odds.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Handling Tough Feedback with Grace and Tact

Blog by Tracy Butz, Think Impact Solutions

So how do you learn to back off the defensive and calmly handle receiving tough feedback? Here are a few ideas that just may help!

1. Stop Your First Reaction. Take one second to process the situation and avoid a dismissive facial expression or negative response. Remind yourself to stay calm.

2. Remember the Benefit of Receiving Feedback. Openly hearing constructive criticism is allows you to consider it and then make the decision on changing a particular behavior—namely, to improve your skills, work product, and relationships—that likely will help you meet the expectations others have of you.

3. Listen for Understanding. Allow the person to share his/her complete thoughts, without interruption, and then repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that you want me to…Is that right? Avoid questioning the person’s statement; instead, focus on understanding his/her perspective.

And give the benefit of the doubt here—hey, it’s difficult to give feedback to another person. Recognize that the person giving you feedback may be nervous or may not express his or her ideas perfectly.

4. Say Thank You. Empathetically thank him/her for sharing feedback with you. Say something like, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.” Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the comments, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort this person took to share his/her thoughts.

5. Ask Questions to Process the Feedback. Ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them. For example, if a colleague tells you that you got a little heated in a meeting, here are a few ways to deconstruct the feedback: 
  • Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue: “I was a little frustrated, but can you share when in the meeting you thought I got heated?”
  • Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute: “You're right that I did cut him off while he was talking, and I later apologized for that.”
  • Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue (e.g., a mistake you made once): “Have you noticed me getting heated in other meetings?”
  • Seek specific solutions to address the feedback: “I welcome any ideas on how I might handle this differently in the future.” 

6. Request Time to Follow Up. If appropriate, articulate what you will do going forward, and thank the person again for the feedback, and then close the conversation. If it’s a larger issue, ask for a follow-up meeting to process the feedback, seek advice from others, and consider solutions.